My What a Big Fractal You Have #2

You are Monitor.  Only you exist. Everything else...

If someone was to print out my images and see something more, or less, than is visible on the computer screen, I’d say stop looking at prints and stick to what you see on your monitor — that’s the real thing. Whatever extra shows up in a print is just artifacts, by-products — as artificial as Mondrian or Klee’s brushstrokes. Is that crazy?

Crazy? No. But virtually biased? Hmmmm. Art can also live and live well in RL.

I don’t believe I claimed that all good art has to have texture. I just said I saw little point in making high-end Giclée prints without giving any thought to using texture. If one chooses to ignore an image’s surface quality, then a photographic print would probably do just as well. I also never suggested that texture is the only element of design. Obviously, others — like pattern, color, composition, and perspective — are equally critical.

I outlined the two mindsets I’ve used while making art. The first, monitor mode, involves working fairly small and focusing on how one’s work will appear in digital space. The second, wall mode, means working large from the start with the intention of eventually making a fine art print. Each mode has its own advantages and disadvantages. Wall mode slows everything down. Processing time is considerably lengthened. Increased computer firepower is a must. I now make probably one-fourth the amount of art I once did in the same time frame. True, I’m more discriminating about what I release than I once was, but, using wall mode, each image now takes four times longer to make. Computation time is not the only factor, though. I’m constantly scouring every nook and cranny of an image as I work on it. Because I’m thinking in wall mode, tiny details now matter greatly.

Wall mode, or prints anyway, has other disadvantages. Some digital coloring and lighting aspects can lose a little in translation. A knowledgeable printer can often work around these
deficiencies, but rich reds and deep blues occasionally wash out a bit, and certain backlit features radiant in digital art fade. But, surface texture is significantly enhanced when images move from the flat screen to a wall-mounted, top-grade Giclée. Those “artifacts,” as you call them, are just as real and foundational as anything else in the image, meaning that texture can be substantial in either monitor mode or wall mode. Take away Klee‘s brushstroking “by-products,” and, well, everything falls apart — whether viewing his paintings from near or far.

Of course, a close-up examination of the texture of paintings sometimes does look worse. Personally, I prefer to view art by the impressionists from way across the room. Standing nose-to-nose with an impressionistic painting ruins the magic trick. It’s like going to see your favorite band rehearse and watching the guitarist practice his leg splits and the singer rehearse his “spontaneous” yelps, struts, and hair flips. Once you see all the un-natural exuberance and practiced choreography, the thrill is somewhat gone.

But sometimes scrutinizing texture makes the viewing experience much more enriching, as I noted with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The intensity of his work seems incredibly vibrant to me when closely inspected. And I never appreciated Willem de Kooning much until I stood within a few inches of several canvases of some of his “women.” I remember being truly frightened.

My point, again, is that wall mode and monitor mode are just different ways of seeing — even if what you are looking at is the same thing. As you live for months with a now large Giclée print mounted on the wall of a room in your home, you come to see that particular image far differently than it appears on your monitor — not because the image itself has changed, but because the presentation of that image has undergone a dramatic, perceptual shift.

Obviously, my grounding aesthetics run to painting, as a few minutes poking around my web site will certainly demonstrate. But digital art (and, by association, fractal art) is probably more rooted in the aesthetics of photography where texture is less concerned with surface and more tied to patterns and lines — those “neat clean details unlike anything a human hand could make” (as you said so nicely in a recent comment). And that’s where I probably made my mistake.

Yes. I said it. I made a mistake.

My mistake was assuming that Parke and Monnier’s use of Zoomify was the first step to wall mode thinking. Since they both sell prints, I jumped to a presumption they were magnifying parts of larger images to give detailed views in order to provide a kind of print preview for potential buyers. If so, then I struggled to understand why more attention was not paid to revealing aspects of texture. But, then again, I was approaching this situation as a print promotion — and, yes, from my prevailing painting aesthetics.

But I could have been wrong. Their use of Zoomify may have had nothing to do with selling prints. Maybe it was a way of exploring “the bigger picture” from photographic aesthetics. If that is so, then they are taking steps to think outside the confines of a boxed-in screen. They are throwing a switch to light the viewing room very differently. They are tearing down the blinds and opening windows that reveal a detailed scenery in a way similar to exploring a parameter file — although I agree with you that it doesn’t go deep enough. Still, if this is the intent of Monnier and Parke, then they are to be commended for taking steps to help people see with new eyes, and I was wrong to chide them, and I apologize.

But, when I think about all this zooming around, deep parameter file exploration is probably not limited to software like Sterling-ware. I’d guess anyone using Ultra Fractal could pop in a parameter file and see what it produces at various magnifications. That would seem to be the main selling point of the UF List — to see and possibly tweak images as they can only be seen in UF. However, I’d argue I could also do something similar. I could take the master .psd file of a finished post-processed image of mine and make it public. Then, anyone possessing Photoshop could take a somewhat similar “parameter file” tour of that image.

I said somewhat similar. You and I both know it wouldn’t be quite the same.

You know what I wish? I wish our community would stop falling back so often on the this or that fallacy. Fractal art has to be made this way!! It should be displayed that way!! This is the best software!! No, that is better!! This has no post-processing — so there!! This is mostly post-processed — take that!! And on and on and on. Is this a dead end — or just the birth pangs of bringing forth the next evolutionary step?

Monnier says in his comment that

If one is looking for such a painted look, then the best thing to do is
use paint and not a computer. Using filters on a fractal image to
deliberately lose resolution doesn’t make any sense imho.

Sounds good, but it’s too restrictive. Not everyone can manipulate tools like brushes and paints properly — or deal with being exposed to the chemicals involved. Paint programs are just another kind of tool — like masking. Losing resolution is only a problem if you place the “fractal” completely over the “art” component in fractal art. Conversely, in some cases, I’d argue maybe it’s precisely the loss of resolution that makes a particular image successful.

Monnier says in another comment that

The ease with which it is possible to implement ideas into algorithms
and then works (especially with the new object oriented programming)
makes it [Ultra Fractal] for me without any doubt the best tool available for
algorithmic art.

Well, maybe. But doesn’t he really mean for processed algorithmic art. The layers and masking tools found in UF are really the same processing functions done in graphics programs. And, as Tim and I have argued previously, once you import that photo into UF5, you’ve moved out of the realm of algorithmic art and into the area of mixed media. Moreover, those resolution-killing filters Monnier dislikes are also run by using algorithms.

But I’m no better and can be just as dogmatic. Remember this from last time?

Maybe it’s time to take the first baby-steps toward that equally important big big art thing.

Whoa, Terry. That’s really unfair. Stop looking at everything through your own bias to the aesthetics of painting. Go back above and read what you just wrote here in paragraphs 12 and 13. Now, stop being so judgmental and stay in that time out corner until you can finally behave yourself.

This or that has got to go. We need to start thinking of our art form as more of a straight line, doubled-sided arrow — sort of like the “Threat Assessment Chart” Rolling Stone currently uses. On the left end of the arrow is the word FRACTAL, and on the right end is the word ART. All of us fall someone on this arrow — some resting closer to FRACTAL and others resting nearer to ART. Fractal art, then, can never be this or that. Instead, it’s a wonderfully complex and richly varied continuum. All each of us does is decide on what point of the arrow we want to set up our own house.


P.S. I really appreciate your willingness to have a these conversations. It’s this kind of creative give-and-take that allows complex issues to get fleshed out and discussed in depth. There’s no reason to assume that you and I (or any two people) would see eye to eye on everything. Nor should anyone assume that either of us are strict absolutists who see no exceptions to our own ideas and cannot understand well-articulated positions made from different perspectives. Debates are a way of understanding the dimensions of a concept (like fractal art) — not an inevitable slide into prickly antagonism between warring camps. In our community, everyone is much too quick to put up their force fields at the first sign of disagreement. I understand why, I guess, but only to an extent. Most people are content to build bridges and share common interests but show claws at the first sign of a critique. So, when we are critical on OT, many people immediately conclude we are being much too harsh. But I’d argue it is this very lack of honest discussion that has led to an impasse in our community’s ability to develop comprehensive, coherent fractal art theory and criticism. So, again, thanks for being willing to go out on a limb with me.

And, if you are upset about this post, well, I suppose you can always call me irrational, claim I’m a threat to this blog, and toss me off your server.

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